Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Art of the Shortest Novel: How we connect and disconnect from each other

Umberto Eco anointed Augusto Monterroso as the author of the shortest novel.

El Dinosaurio ('The Dinosaur')
Cuando despertó, el dinosaurio todavía estaba allí. 
"When he awoke, the dinosaur was still there."

Instead .  .  .

What if we considered how we connected, or disconnected, to those around us? What novels would we write if we could look upon our personal world?

This personal world would be more than the sum of kinship, of friends and acquaintances, and more than the semi-random meetings of those we encounter as we walk through the day.

How might we describe these personal worlds?

I asked my students to take on this challenge. These are several of their novels.

Irene Hurtado: Screen
I have not touched my loved ones and too often touched strangers.

Omar Soto: The Border
The border is my daily enemy, long lines, long waits, all this just to be in this place.

Grecia Montes:  Mujer (Woman)
Nací siendo mujer, el sueño mas bello, la pesadilla mas horrible, machismo en mi cultura.
"Born a woman, the most beautiful dream, the most terrifying nightmare, machismo in my culture."

Ivonne Arriaga: Two Worlds
She was part of two worlds, but not both.

Cassandra Ordaz: The Ride
The world ended with a velociraptor riding a white shark.


Monday, September 26, 2016

Trolley Dancin' from Barrio Logan to Fault Line Park

This year's Trolley Dances returned to Barrio Logan but with new twists and outbound visits to the Museum of Contemporary Art downtown and then on to Fault Line Park.  The Trolley Dances continues the emerging San Diego culture - a thank you is owed to Jean Isaacs and the San Diego Dance Theater.

What always fascinates me is thinking about dance and the variety of spaces in which they are performed.  This is not your usual theater performance and not simply outdoors.  There is a connection between the choreographer's concept, the musical framing of the dance, and how the dancers engage with each other and the venue. 

I've included two short videos that provide a bridge from these still images and the performance itself. 

Hopefully you find the time to explore these dances as well as the re-invigorated Barrio Logan community and travel with them to the Museum of Contemporary Art as well as to the lesser known (to me) Fault Line Park.

Me and My Car, choreographer Jean Isaacs with Minaqua McPherson and JT Magee
The choreographer's concept:  "Ever think how much people resemble their cars? .  .  .  My car has 214,000 miles on it and runs great despite its many scratches and dents - just like me. We are dancing in and on our cars on the 4th level of the parking structure .  .  .  . "

Me and My Car

Video excerpt from Me and My Car

Follow Us Here, Choreographer Jess Humphrey
The choreographer's concept:  "Behold, follow, leave, or find any dancer or dance you wish throughout this site-sensitive performance."

When: October 1 and 2, 2016
Tour Times: 10:00, 10:45, 11:30, 12:15, 1:00, 1:45

Where: Begins at San Diego Continuing Education César E. Chávez Campus Parking Garage
1902 National Avenue, corner of Cesar Chavez Parkway 
Trolley Dances brings original site-specific dances to the MTS Blue Line starting in the historic Barrio Logan and winding through the heart of San Diego ending at Fault Line Park, all led by trained tour guides. A stellar team of choreographers are on board to create newwork that is sure to delight and engage.
Site locations: 
César E. Chávez Campus Parking Garage
Lobby of the SD Continuing Education César E. Chávez Campus Museum of Contemporary Art

Walkway across from MOCA
Fault Line Park

Follow Us Here

attempts to define, Choreographer Zaquia Mahler Salinas, in collaboration with the dancers
The choreographer's concept:  "This dance is inspired by the beauty in individual expression of identity and history. Art is a radical expression of humanity that lies at the root of the Chicano art displayed in this space and at the heart of this dance."

[Note: I am reminded of my long ago documenting and exploring the notion of Chicano identity: “Some Notes on Chicano Music as a Pathway to Community Identity,” in New Scholar 5,1:73-93. (1975)]

attempts to define

Finding Center, Choreographer Bill Shannon
The choreographer's concept:  "Inhabiting a square anywhere in the world involves the same basic patterns of physical behavior as my practice defines it: To claim the center of a given square one need first define its edges. Working with non-verbal relationships relating to human patterns I might choose to define my edges as counter to the sociological constructs that predetermine the definition of a place. I might submit to or contest the power of architecture. Even the shadow cast from a building carries a different mood than the shadows cast from a tree. This dance is a question with no right answers."

Up a Creek with Ten Paddles, Choreographer Jean Isaacs, with input from the dancers
The choreographer's concept: "Inspired by a television ad for an insurance company in which a man rows on escalators, lawns and in canoes, this piece was created for the northwest corner of Fault Line Park and is extremely site-specific, meaning we could never perform it anywhere else without major reconstruction."

Tonight's Game, Choreographer Monica Bill Barnes
The choreographer's concept: "There are a few things that you may not know about this dance, this lawn is one of the most popular dog parks in the city and therefore full of dog poop so please watch your step. Also, there are small black flies that bite the dancers' ankles, even through their socks. A few of the dancers are allergic to grass. . . ."

Tonight's Game

Reflective Globe at Fault Line Park

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Comics, Comic Con and Political Satire: A path to enlightened discourse?

Going to the San Diego Comic-Con is more about superheroes, intergalactic warfare and fantasy rather than snarkiness about day-to-day political partisanship. But the comic phenomenon is generally a concern about morality. About how we understand good and evil. Perhaps when good triumphs over evil.
Sometimes we are so embroiled in politically partisan issues that we lose sight of what is actually good and evil and simply end up saying ‘boo for your side, hooray for my side.’ Knee jerk emotionalism occasionally overtakes a more even-handed rational analysis.

Perhaps a comic book and satire can poke us enough to stop and consider where the arguments are more telling, incisive and revealing about each side’s position. 

When I was growing up, I began a collection of EC comics (and later its successor, Mad Magazine).  Bill Gaines took on the moral facade of the day - 1950s - and suffered the consequences of censorship.  Today, Gaines' approach would be de rigeur at the Con.

An excerpt from his Senate testimony goes to the heart of taste versus morality:

Senator Estes Kefauver:    Here is your May 22 issue .  .  .  .   This seems to be a man with a bloody axe holding a woman's head up which has been severed from her body. Do you think that is in good taste?

Gaines:    Yes sir, I do, for the cover of a horror comic. A cover in bad taste, for example, might be defined as holding the head a little higher so that the neck could be seen dripping blood from it, and moving the body over a little further so that the neck of the body could be seen to be bloody.

Kefauver: You have blood coming out of her mouth.

Gaines:    A little.

Kefauver: Here is blood on the axe. I think most adults are shocked by that.  


Yes, shocking can be a way to loosen up one’s preconceptions. Admittedly, sometimes the shocking is gratuitous and without merit.  But, the old-school comic book shock generally ended as a morality tale.  Bible stories and tales from Hans Christian Andersen are equally shocking - but with a point: To teach about good and evil.  This is no more shocking than listening to a hellfire and brimstone sermon.

The scariest movie I saw as a child was The Wizard of Oz.  Now I can ride the roller coaster of the imagination watching films like Prometheus, The Avengers and the Suicide Squad

Back in the 18th century, before movies, there were still comic-like features advocating such good things as beer and evil things as gin.  William Hogarth's well-crafted satirical images helped sway public policy against gin.  The woman in the center of Gin Lane (1751) The woman at the front of Gin Lane, is letting her baby fall to its death, reminding the readers of the day of Judith Dufour  who sold her baby's clothes to get money for gin. One can find roots of political satire in the plays of Aristophanes in Ancient Greece.

Today, we can find a number of newspapers that feature political satire. For example, one recent counterpoint at the San Diego Union Tribune (July 25, 2015) juxtaposed left-wing and Chicano perspective of Lalo Alcaraz (Cucaracha) with that of Bruce Tinsley  (MallardFillmore).

Alcaraz’s riff played on President Obama’s remarks at the funeral in Dallas for slain police officers on July 12, 2016. The Washington Post awarded the President 3 Pinocchios again (previously, he was awarded the same for his exaggeration about it being easier to buy guns than vegetables). Was Alcaraz satirizing the President as well? Perhaps.

Tinsley’s comic takes FBI Director Jim Comey’s and Donald Trump’s comments about Hillary Clinton and puts it into the cheering audience at the Democratic Convention. Clearly, satire.

Satire is, by definition, offensive. It is meant to make us feel uncomfortable. It is meant to make us scratch our heads, think, do a double-take, and then think again.
Maajid Nawaz

If you're going to get into social criticism with absurdity and satire, you can't be politically correct when you do that.
John Cusack

Sometimes, a weblog will be dedicated to political satire – like the telling of President Obama’s anticipated legacy (My Legacy in the White House). What was he really thinking?

The problem with political satire is that it requires the audience to be sufficiently educated with the actual beliefs/statements/actions of those being satirized. And, to the extent that the general public is anesthetized by left-wing or a right-wing media, they might simply fail to get the funny aspect.

One superb example worth mentioning is a point-counterpoint presented on the Bill Maher television show. He had Alexandra Pelosi present a wicked example of Republic voters in Mississippi commenting on Obamacare AND an equally wicked example of New York City welfare recipients, some apparently freeloaders, living up to the stereotype of those who abuse this entitlement. Embedded in both videos are those people who are mocked with less reason. Still, the conversation about left and right can profit by confrontation by this wider journalistic lens. 

Can you watch both episodes and laugh or are you hamstrung by your biases?
But what about the panel presentations at Comic Con?  Are there focused presentations about today's bad public policies or are those exactly what the attendee wishes to escape from?  If I were going to the Con in 2012, I'd check out Zombies, Vampires and Werewolves on Trial:  The Forensic Psychiatry of the Dead, Undead and the Unlucky.  But political satire?  I skimmed the schedule of activities and panels and found one that just might fit. Maybe: Serious Pictures:  Comics and Journalism in a New Era. 

For 2016, there was Snoopy for President: Politics in Peanuts (Explore the world of politics through Charles Schulz).

At Comic Con, sometimes there are hints of political satire, but it is often embedded in cartoonists resume (mostly on the left), e.g.  Jen Sorensen  or Berkeley Breathed.

So, while there are possibilities to lift political argument out of virulent attack commentary through satire, we are rarely treated to such trenchant discourse.

It seems like we are locked into the rewards of opposition research – bickering and character assassination.

A dim prospect for improving the world we live in.